Daily Mail Fall Foul Of Dr* T’s First Theory

November 25, 2008 at 1:25 pm (Bad Science, Media) (, , , , )

Dr* T’s First Theory is that

Any tabloid heading that starts ‘Is this….’, ‘Could this be…’ etc. can be safely answered ‘No’

The Daily Mail, unsurprisingly to anyone who reads the “People’s Medical Journal”, has stumbled into conflict with Dr* T’s First Theory [capitalised for added gravitas] on a number of occasions and I spotted another this week on the HolfordWatch miniblog. Is a glass of red wine the way to perk up your painful back? No. The story is reporting on a substance that is found in red wine, that is injected into injured backs rather than being taken orally, and that has only been tested for this purpose in animal trials. This was not a study looking at whether drinking red wine prevented further damage or aided recovery from injury (“mended damaged backs”, if you want to use Daily Mail terminology) in humans.

This substance, resveratrol, is also found in cranberry, grape and (apparently) peanuts. So why the obsession with it being a “red wine substance”? For some reason, the media seem to have decided that red wine is the healthiest substance known to man and that its benefits must always be exaggerated and its risks ignored. Possibly the best (or should that be “worst”?) example of this came in the Telegraph. This was a story described by Ben Goldacre as “beyond stupid”. Here is the Bad Science post and here is the spectacularly stupid report in the Telegraph. Perhaps we simply want things that we like to be good for us. Maybe we want the media to tell us (repeatedly) that alcoholic drinks, for all the damage they may do in excess, are good for us. We’re certainly obsessed with food and nutrition – some of us to an unhealthy extent. Thanks to Claire for pointing me in the direction of an interesting piece in The Telegraph (written, apparently, by Raj Persaud), from which the following quote is taken:

While an anorexic wants to lose weight, an orthorexic wants to feel pure, healthy and natural. Failing to understand this distinction may lead to incorrect treatment.

A study just published by the Institute of Gut Sciences of La Sapienza University in Rome is the first attempt to measure the prevalence of orthorexia in the general population. Researchers found that up to seven per cent of the Italian population suffer from orthorexia nervosa; intriguingly, it was a misunderstanding of nutrition that seemed to be the most commonly found predisposing factor.

I have my suspicions regarding the public’s misunderstanding of nutrition. Maybe, just maybe, celebrity nutritionistas and the media have played some part.



  1. dvnutrix said,

    That really is a classic, even by Daily Mail standards. I sometimes wonder when we’ll see a story: “Eat liver to regrow liver. Eat kidney and regrow kidney” – and it will be all about protein in organ meats that are good for regenerating all tissues in the body.

    afaik, from the inception of nutritionism, pundits have been deploring the nutritional status of the food supply and advocating supplements. Before nutritionism there were various religious sects that advocated food reform for reasons of spiritual purity to millennial preparation or bringing about new political systems founded on compassionate/philosophical systems that included animals and therefore forebade eating them.

  2. Dr* T said,


    It’s amazing that ‘science’ is being channelled in these ridiculous articles that seem to say “food is nothing – take a fist of pills for good health”.

    It can all be rehashed to say “There are lots of different types of beneficial nutrients in lots of foods. Eat a varied diet and things will probably be pretty good.” (Actually there’s no real bettering of “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”)

    Personally, I chose a varied diet with a heavy persuasion on ‘taste’ and ‘satisfaction’ – something inherently missing in pills.

  3. Red Wine And Cancer. Again. « Stuff And Nonsense said,

    […] it might not be quite that simple. Resveratrol, as I’ve noted* before, “is also found in cranberry, grape and (apparently) peanuts” so, firstly, one […]

  4. The People’s Medical Journal « Stuff And Nonsense said,

    […] Red wine for a painful back story relied on research in animals involving injections of resveratrol – which, I’m […]

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